Educators and training providers welcome skills shakeup

Last week’s decision by new Prime Minister Theresa May to reorganise several government departments has prompted a broadly positive response. The main change has been the decision to remove responsibility for skills from the Business and Innovation department and amalgamate it into the Department for Education (DfE)

Skills minister Nick Boles was an early casualty of the move, resigning on Thursday. His successor as skills minister within the DfE has yet to be named, but Robert Halfon’s name has been linked with the post. Halfon was appointed as minister at the Department for Education as part of the reshuffle and has a record of support for apprentices – indeed he was the first MP to hire an apprentice when he partnered with Westminster Kingsway College and the charity New Deal of the Mind to found the Parliamentary academy, an apprentice school.

The move comes just a week after the publication of the major post-16 technical skills plan based on the findings of the Sainsbury panel, a strategy that will now be delivered by Greening’s DfE.


‘Could be a very positive move’

The decision to incorporate the skills brief into the DfE under new secretary of state Justine Greening was welcomed by a range of figures across the education and training landscape. Mark Dawe, chief executive of the Employment and Learning Providers,  said putting apprenticeships and traineeships under one roof “Could be a very positive move”.

“It will give us a chance to properly pull together the Sainsbury Review and apprenticeship strategy. We might see finally see the creation of an all-age careers service in England too. We look forward to hearing Ms Greening set out her stall and welcome her to her new post.”


Removing the split raises questions

Apprentices at Arch

Apprentices at Arch

Arch Apprentices chief executive  Jason Moss said it “made sense” to remove the “artificial split” between responsibility for further education and apprenticeships, but voiced concern about its impact on the myriad of changes ahead for the sector.

“There will be the inevitable question over the impact of planning for the Apprenticeship Levy: how much will it be slowed down or altered by the department?”

Meanwhile David Hughes, chief executive of the Learning and Work Institute, urged the new secretary of state to put collaboration with educators and providers at the forefront of her work. “We recognise the opportunities created by bringing together FE, skills and apprenticeships with schools and early learning. Joining these areas up can create a more coherent and seamless approach to lifelong learning, with real advantage for students, learners and apprentices. I am looking forward to supporting the new minister and her team to realise those benefits.

“It is essential however that FE and skills are not overlooked with the many challenges that schools, early education and higher education present. Working with the Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP), the Association of Colleges (AoC) and other partners we will make sure that these areas remain high on the agenda as further education and skills have never been so important in the current climate of uncertainty.”

This was echoed by Arch’s Moss: “We’ve had ‘academic rigour pushed by schools minister Nick Gibb in the Cameron government, which was pretty ideological – what will the balance be to ensure young people have practical skills and enthusiasm for the world of work, which is what employers want?”


Industry welcomes repaired ‘disconnect’

Industry, too, has had its say. Steve Nash of the Institute of the Motor Industry said his organisation was “delighted to see skills being linked with education again at ministerial level”.

“We have long been concerned about the disconnect between education and the careers path that follows school and further education,” said Nash. “We firmly believe this more joined up approach will give the IMI, representing those working in the automotive retail sector, as well as other industry bodies, the opportunity to more effectively promote the positive benefits of a mixed approach to further education encompassing both vocational and academic routes.

“The productivity of our economy is currently being severely undermined by the ever-widening skills gaps being seen right across the UK. Yet, currently, with no formal careers advice in schools, young people aren’t getting the direction they need to make the best choices for their future. There has been a real conflict of interest between schools holding onto 16-18 year old pupils to bolster their funding and the clearly stated desire by government to see more taking the apprenticeship route. Connecting the education curriculum with the skills that are needed for the future success of the country has to be a good move.


‘A more joined up approach’

Paul Eeles, chief executive of the Skills and Education Group, said he hoped the combined department will ensure cohesion right from school age through to adult learning and will provide a more joined up approach, we hope with a single funding agency, and with more opportunities to provide young people with careers education about alternative opportunities including vocational qualifications and apprenticeships.

“Everyone at the Skills and Education Group looks forward to working with the new secretary of state and her team, over the next parliament and seeing the recommendations from the report of the Independent Panel on Technical Education materialise within a fully integrated education and skills department.”

Martin Doel, chief executive of the Association of Colleges (AoC), said he was looking forward to working with the new education secretary, and that Greening had a good knowledge of the further education and skills sector as a former college student herself.

“The move to incorporate skills into the Department for Education must not be allowed to preface any loss of focus on technical education as embodied in the recently released Post-16 Skills Plan,” Doel said.

“Links with industry that were firmly established in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills need to be preserved and built upon in the transfer of departments. The distinctive contribution of colleges as autonomous institutions needs also to be recognised and promoted – they are not the same as big schools.”